Guest Post By Sathya Achia
When we were kids, my brother and I would sit for hours, side-by-side, at the fold-out desk our parents had constructed. A bucket of broken crayons and a heap of gently used paper sat in the middle of desk, just within reach of our tiny hands.
We gave that paper new life as we scribbled down fantastical stories that took us back to the time and place we loved the most—summers at our grandparents’ home at the edge of a rainforest nestled in the Western Ghats region of India. We’d race around with our cousins through the rice paddy fields, swing on the thick, vine-like limbs of the banyan tree, and hike through forty acres of coffee plantation—often pretending we were treasure hunters.
But the greatest of adventures would come when our grandfather would return from his day out in the fields, and he’d plop himself in his solid throne-like teakwood chair and begin the stories that have become the very center of my own heart. After he’d refueled with his coffee and savory snacks, he’d sit at the edge of his chair with all of us grandkids gathered around and speak the stories of The Ramayana, Mahabharata, or folktales of our own South Indian Kodava ancestors. There was no book cradled in his hands—it was all him and his imagination, retelling the stories he himself had grown up with, sometimes inserting his own unique twist on things. His voice, theatrically rising and falling like the ocean’s tide with each story beat. His hands would drum on the wooden arm of his chair to signal the coming of epic change. His face, an expression of pure delight—you could tell that it wasn’t a chore for him to entertain us even after a long day of arduous work—it was his proud honor to pass the love of a good story on to us. The power of his oral storytelling was captivating.
It’s no wonder that once night fell upon the house, and all the grown-ups were fast asleep, my brother, cousins, and I, would pile on a bed, and share our own stories in hushed voices, by the warm glow of candlelight.
Those memories and stories from a lifetime ago are forever etched on my heart. It’s my well of inspiration and it moves me to write the stories I create. I can close my eyes and be transported back to those days.
I remain in awe of my grandfather and his ability to put on such a show for us day after day. But the true power of it all, was that it came from his love for us—straight from his heart.
As I plotted and planned what has now become my debut YA novel, In My Hands, each piece of plot, setting, and characterization was carefully drawn from those special moments. I just gave them new life in the most fantastical of ways.
But most of all, I wrote what was already written on my heart.
What inspires your writing?
An excerpt from Chapter 4 of In My Hands
The fortune teller starts to trace the meandering lines from the center of my right palm, repeatedly. It’s soothing at first and combined with the sweet and woody scent of sandalwood incense and burning candles, a calmness sweeps over me. Then she stops following my actual lines and starts to trace the thick, wide scars on my palms.I stare into the jagged, raised scars. They’re ugly and I hate them. The more Surya messes with my palms, the
more they throb.
She continues to trace the lines but keeps getting distracted by the scars. “Head, heart, and life,” she whispers. “These lines tell me the story of your destiny.”
I imagine each line to be a separate winding road, no doubt taking her to a different place. Then she lets out a gasp and violently jerks my hand closer to her face,
her eyes wide and bewildered.
My eyelids start to feel heavy as if they carry the weight of the world. I wasn’t tired before, but now I just want nothing more than to drift off to sleep. I try to fight it, but it doesn’t feel right. I can’t fight it any longer.
My hands start to burn and the room around me spins as I become overwhelmed with the sweet fragrance of blossoming jasmine. I feel as if I’m sinking deep into the floor beneath the bamboo mat.
The world goes black and then a vision forms.
In the yoga studio, the lights are dimmed just the way Amma likes it, with only the flicker of
candlelight to guide my way. The tiny hairs on my arms stand up and I shudder. It’s eerily quiet.
“Amma?” I call out.
“Chandraka, I can’t keep you safe anymore,” she says, her voice hoarse as if she’s been crying, or worse yet, screaming. I can barely make out her figure near the meditation altar. She looks as though she is kneeling. “It’s coming for you. The darkness. And it will give you the fight of your life.”
I feel a wave of anger rising and falling as a pool of tears gather in my eyes. “But I need you!”
“The disc is your weapon. You must learn to wield it. Hold it in your palm, and it will give you answers to the past, lead you in the right direction in the present, and allow you to see the future.”
A sharp low whistle fills the room. The ground beneath my feet rumbles and it’s followed by a strange noise that sounds like the clicking of fingertips on a desktop. I pick up a candle for light and lower it to the floor when I see something haphazardly skitter across it. I lurch back in disgust.
There are hundreds of scorpions of all sizes scurrying across the hardwood floors of the studio and upon the meditation altar. They crawl over the sandalwood elephant, the bronze statue of goddess Durga, the lotus, and the tabla, digging their stingers into each piece. The
stingers must be filled with some form of acid because with each point of contact, they are able to damage the relics. I hear a low whistle again and they respond to the call as they creep away in the direction of the double doors leading to the courtyard, having completely ravaged Amma’s sacred space.
“You must go home to the jungle. Find the others. Destroy the rakshasi,” she says, breathlessly. She doubles over, screaming out in pain, and falls forward onto the altar.
The bright studio spotlights flicker on and shine down from above, blinding me for a matter of seconds. I rush for Amma as I scan the floor. The scorpions have disappeared.
“It got me,” she says in a hushed voice as I reach her side and scoop her into my arms, holding her close. “Chandraka, my journey ends here,” she whispers. “Know that I always saw you. I never said it enough…” Her eyes roll back into her head.
“Amma, wake up, wake up!” I weep as my body shakes with unrelenting sorrow. But she doesn’t wake and my heart sinks.
When my eyes open, I’m still in the fortune teller’s tent, my breathing is ragged, and my heart is exploding through my chest as the vision crosses from somewhere inside my head into my reality.
Panic sets in.
I know Amma is in danger. I can feel it deep inside me and know it’s true. I need to warn her, but I’m suddenly overcome with pain.
My hands are burning as if they’re on fire. I clap them closed, trying to stifle the throbbing pain. My jaw drops open, but nothing comes out. I fall forward clenching the disc against my heart and making a fist with the other pounding on the bamboo mat on the tent floor. I feel the disc fall from my waistband pocket onto the floor next to me.
Surya does not bat an eye at my distress, her intense, kohl-lined eyes focus on the disc. She glides to the side of the tent, grabs a bottle of tiny green leaves from her well-stocked shelves, shakes it, then pinches several of them between her pointer finger and thumb and dusts them off into a black mortar and pestle.
I watch through bleary eyes as she takes the handle of the blunt, clubbed-shaped pestle in her hand and moves it around crushing and grinding the leaves into a fine paste. She returns to the bamboo mat and kneels beside me. Anchored to the tassel enclosure of Surya’s lehenga is a small, glass vial containing a thick, deep red liquid. With just the tips of her fingers, she unties and releases it with ease from the tassel and pours it over the paste, mixing it some more. She works swiftly, finally combining everything into a coconut husk bowl. She crouches over where I lay, reaches her arms around me, and forces me back to a sitting position. “Drink it all,” she commands, the look in her eyes somewhere between
concern and a threat, as she holds the rudimentary bowl to my lips. It’s vile but she tilts my head back to force every drop down my throat. The terrible pain slowly fades away. My shaken nerves begin to grip reality and my fingers tingle, but my mind is focused on one thing—the visions.
Sathya Achia was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, where she grew up devouring books and playing along the pebbly shores of Lake Huron, before moving to the United States.
Sathya’s creative work is influenced by her South Indian Kodava culture. She grew up spending summers in the remote hills and enchanting jungles of the Western Ghats in India, where she learned the art of storytelling from her grandparents.
By day, Sathya is an award-winning communications professional who currently serves as a senior editor at one of the world’s largest global advertising agencies. Previously, she’s worked in public relations and as a health/medical writer and editor for both consumer and trade publications, pairing her curiosity for understanding what makes the world tick with a love for communicating across print and digital formats.
When not spinning stories, Sathya can be found trying a new yoga pose, exploring the great outdoors, traveling the world, or wrapped up in her greatest adventure of all: Motherhood.
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Ami’s Note: This is my first ever guest post. Look for my review of “In My Hands” coming soon!
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